Kansas City civil rights and religious leaders implored a City Council committee Wednesday to endorse a “living wage” requirement that would boost the minimum wage in the city and try to lift people out of poverty.
“The pain and the misery of working poor people just can’t wait,” Vernon Howard, executive vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, told the council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee.
Committee member Scott Taylor agreed, saying, “This is one of the most important topics of our time.”
But the committee postponed a vote for at least a week after City Attorney Bill Geary warned that Missouri law prohibits cities from mandating any level of pay that exceeds the state minimum wage. The current state minimum wage is $7.65 per hour.
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Howard and other religious leaders urged the City Council to act morally and courageously and pass the measure, even if it is challenged in court. But committee chairman Ed Ford said he wanted more assurance that the city can mount an effective legal argument and prevail in court.
“To pass something just to have it struck down, I’m not sure what that accomplishes,” Ford said.
The measure was introduced by Councilman Jermaine Reed, who said he and others have been working on this for more than a year. It would require employers to pay $10 per hour beginning Sept. 1. That would rise to $11.25 on Sept. 1, 2017, and then by $1.25 per hour each year for three more years, arriving at $15 per hour by 2020.
Other cities such as Seattle and San Francisco have approved phased-in minimum wage increases, but Geary pointed out that those cities are not in states that pre-empt them from adopting these types of laws.
Supporters of the proposed law said that if the City Council won’t act on its own, they hope to collect signatures to put an initiative petition on a city ballot. But they would want the city attorney to advise them on a way to craft the ballot language in such a way that it would survive a court battle.